Saturday, September 30, 2017


Prosperity and Quality of Life

REconomy means RE-generative E-conomy.  Economic development has always been considered an adversary of the environment.   The economy shapes and defines the environment.  Development creates a cluttered built environment, congested streets, sprawl, hundreds of acres of parking lots, rising taxes and increasing crime.  The landscape becomes what architect Frank Lloyd Wright called “American Ugly.”

REconomy requires a new economic system.  It radically changes the way we use energy and materials.  Saying that, it is an entrepreneurial model that pays for itself.  It is a free-market concept.
Regenerative Economy by John Fullerton

Government agencies create stacks of documents and regulations to restrain the impact of development on health and safety but at base governments want development and the revenue potential it represents.  The term “Balance” is a mantra of development but on close examination, there is no balance between growth and a finite environment:  We cannot create more land, water, farmland, forest and natural beauty.

Quality of life, however, is defined by economic prosperity.  Without businesses, jobs and infrastructure, life can become grim.  Arguably the thing that is worse than growth is economic decline and impoverishment such as has happened to hundreds of American communities.

REconomy is a business model that seeks to strengthen the weak link between the economy and environment.  It seeks not balance but a mission of regenerating, of restoring and improving the natural features of the community that in large part define quality of life.

Regenerative economics is also about long-term declining, rustbelt, communities; communities that have struggled, some for decades, to find an economic model that will restore prosperity, recreate attractive communities and attract families to find homes in a good place to live.

In both cases, sustainability is about creating or restoring a prosperous and secure future drawing on both emerging technologies and traditional crafts and trades.

Organizing Principles

Communities across the country have been working for decades to develop plans to promote sustainability.  Really good plans are regrettably few in number.  Most communities have partial plans (that depend on limited public resources).  Few have made more than token progress.  The Centre Sustainability Master Plan seeks to fill the need for a comprehensive sustainability planning template.

Sustainability is first about preserving or restoring the quality of life of a community.  Prosperity and economic security are achieved through development of the economic potential of the community but unmanaged growth can have a distressing impact on the quality of life.  The quest for “balance” misses the point.  We need rather an economy that not only creates wealth but also advances the well-being of the community and secures the style of life we desire to leave as a legacy to coming generations.

Sustainability is, second, about achieving freedom from dependence upon, from the risk we are becoming increasingly aware about, of an uncertain global economy and from reliance on material resources in places with far from secure political futures.

Sustainability is more than a social good; it is an economic process.  It has to be approached in a businesslike manner.  It involves risk; not just the personal time and financial investments of entrepreneurs, but of greater importance, of setting objectives the achievement of which people stake their credibility upon.

It takes a Plan

To achieve any degree of certainty we must have a plan, a document that defines a vision of the future, a statement of purpose, a list of common objectives, and the mechanism for achieving them.

A useful plan must be comprehensive in scope.  A community is a complex, dynamic and highly interdependent network which achieves its greatest identify and efficiency to the degree that its everyday behavior is well understood.  A community is a group of people who share not only a place but a common sense of identity, values and a sense of cooperative endeavor to promote the welfare of all of its members.  Transition Centre has pursued Community Ecosystem Mapping as a tool for achieving this synergy.

We need to understand the planning process itself.  Sustainable economic planning research tells us a great deal about the potential and the limitations of these plans.  Transition Centre has sought to extract key principles from this research to guide the formation of an action-oriented process to both assures prosperity and quality of life.  These principles give this model a distinctive if not unique character.

Our focus is explicitly local.  It is about the place we call home.  It is about problems that are within our grasp to solve.  It is about the things we can do for ourselves rather than depending on outside agencies.

Myths and Other Liabilities

The classical definition of sustainability is about how we reduce our own consumption to insure there is enough for future generations.  This ideal is arguably no longer achievable.  We have to have a new approach, a new vision, and an effective program for securing a desirable future.

The weak link in the sustainability matrix has always been that between the economy and the environment.  The global economy has barely tapped the brakes on economic growth; indeed, what little restraint we see comes as a result of economic recession rather than mission.  We must, therefore adapt and innovate and we can do this if we have sufficient motivation.

Of equal importance is the capacity of the sustainability community, a thin green wedge, lacking in coherence and organization, lacking in measureable objectives, to achieve the necessary rate of transformational change to avoid tragic consequences in the future.  We address these issues.

A brand new for-profit corporate legal entity, the Benefit Corporation, provides a mechanism for dramatically strengthening the reciprocal relationship between ecology and economy, terms that share the same root.

The Master Plan Template

The Centre Sustainability Master Plan provides a framework for setting quantifiable goals.  From the vision, we can backcast, step by step, into the sequence of events needed to achieve them.

The plan begins with a detailed community assessment.  We need to understand what we consume; not the cost of consumption but the quantities of goods and services, of energy and information, of both tangible and intangible variables.  We need to understand where resources come from and what risk are involved in dependencies on distant sources.  We need to understand the community ecosystem:  the social and economic processes, the players and partners, and the network of collaboration and exchange that define the community.  We need to access the resources we have at our disposal and how to combine them into a viable economic program.

Action plans are not policy statements; they are business plans.  They are about what will be achieved, who will do the job, and how the job will be accomplished.  Each module of the master plan is expected to not only pay for itself but also provide significant economic benefit to the community.  This model requires extraordinary innovation.

Achieving a sustainable future requires a dedicated leadership.  It requires organization and resources.  It requires investments.

Implementation involves organization, markets, financial planning, systematic and effective networking and communication, entrepreneurship, training and education, community development, and other things outlined in the template. 

Community ownership of the process is absolutely essential.  Governments and institutions are partners rather than authorities.  The model is bottom up, not top down.  The leaders of a community enterprise are those who take the responsibility for getting things done in a collaborative and cooperative, open-source, manner.

Vision 10 – 10

Economic progress can only be achieved by setting achievable goals.  Vision 10 – 10 sets objectives of ten percent economic redevelopment in ten years in each of a dozen sectors.  The first ten percent will be the hardest and parts of that extremely challenging in themselves.   Once attained, however, rapidly development is readily achievable.

Ten percent residential renewable electricity, for example, translates into a count of households in the designated zone multiplied by the best estimates of the cost of installation of wind, solar and other means of generating that electricity.

Even on a small scale, say 5,000 households, the cost estimate can give you sticker shock.  Nonetheless, it represents an achievable objective.  As an economic problem, it is not a matter of trying to figure out how to get the government to fund this program but how to make it a leverage to both pay for itself and to create significant economic advantage for the community.

Once the objective is set it is obviously necessary to mobilize champions and organize the program.  It will be immediately obvious that there is a long list of daunting barriers to getting this job done.  There must, therefore, be strong motivation and that motivation comes in terms of both community pride and the promise of prosperity.

Essential to this model is that while there are a dozen or more major initiatives, they must be closely coordinated.  The Master Plan Template and the Community Ecosystem Mapping tool help achieve this objective.

Community ownership means transparency.  This involves not only providing daily updates on the projects but inviting active public participation in meetings, events and celebrations.


Creating a sustainable future requires a new type of leadership.  The challenges of our day are different than those that preceded it.  Each period in our social and economic development has required its own form of leadership.  As Einstein said, we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that created them.  A new leadership must build on the capacity to manage complexity, so see the whole picture, perceive patterns, and the knowledge and skills necessary to affect significant and lasting change.

We call this new style of stewardship, Deep Leadership.

Copyright © 2017, Bill Sharp, Transition Centre

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